COOPER COUNTY — The De Bourgmont Access to the Lamine River is closed while authorities construct a levee to aid in the search for Mengqi Ji, the Columbia woman missing and feared dead.


The Missouri Department of Conservation issued a news release early Tuesday stating that the access is expected to be closed 5-10 days, but that could change.


Columbia police said last week that the construction of the levee will help divers and allow heavy equipment better access to an area in the river where search efforts are focused.


That area is the southeast pier of the Highway 49 bridge. The pier is encompassed by flood debris such as logs and wood which extends to the bottom of the river, in some areas more than 12 feet deep. The debris combined with the river’s murky waters have hampered search efforts thus far.


Search efforts have focused on that area after search dogs alerted there. The access itself was allegedly visited by Ji’s husband, Joseph Elledge, who is charged with first-degree murder in her death. He drove to several locations in the 36 hours before he filed a missing persons report, but admitted to being at all but the De Bourgmont Access, according to Columbia police affidavits.


A plan was in the works to construct a cofferdam to expose the debris pile to the river bottom, but proved to be cost-prohibitive at an estimated $500,000. The levee will cost about $50,000 and will be paid through city and county funds and private donations by the Missing Person Support Center.


Ji was a mother and an engineer who graduated from the University of Columbia. She has not been seen since Oct. 8, 2019. Elledge is scheduled for trial June 2.